Out of pierced and broken hearts...

“What do you do with your losses?”

I remember reading this sentence in Henri Nouwen’s book With Burning Hearts about eight months ago and thinking, “Yes, Henri. Please tell me: what can be done with our losses?”

Those who are in pain tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the purposes pain serves, what we might do with it, what is happening to us when we are in it, if we actually have to pass through (instead of around) it… and many other questions like this. And it could not be a more human thing to do – to ask questions and interrogate our pain. Though I don’t think it’s essential for us to understand pain for it to transform us, I have been thinking a lot this past year about why pain transforms us and what is happening when we are in the dark nights of our souls.

I really enjoy the less visible people in stories, and as I was considering pain and broken-heartedness, I was reminded of a man mentioned in the Bible named Simeon. Simeon shows up only very briefly in the New Testament around the time Jesus was born. The particular story in which he shows up is where Jesus has just been circumcised (welcome to the world, Jesus!) and Mary and Joseph were faithfully carrying out all the Jewish ceremonies around having a new baby. Only a few things are said about Simeon: 1) He was a just and devoted man; 2) he was a man who had very eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Anointed One because of the promised liberation he would bring, and 3) he was very attuned to the Spirit. The story in Luke chapter 2 says that Simeon woke up that day feeling prompted by the Spirit to go to the temple, so he did. And there his dream came true.

He held Jesus in his arms, this newborn who would do things Simeon would never see in his Earthly lifetime. I like to imagine that, in looking into this little baby’s eyes and holding his warm little body, Simeon could perhaps see in that moment all that would come to pass – the pain, the freedom, the vastness. I like to imagine he could see and feel all the surrender, the opening, the One-ing, and the freedom that would come through the life of this sweet, brand new child who was the Light of the Cosmos. This tiny body of the One who manifested all things from poetry and stardust would grow up to be pierced and torn apart by hatred and addiction to certainty. So helpless and utterly dependent, this baby would become the man who would entangle Himself with all humankind for their total, unstoppable liberation. As Simeon was standing there after seeing this, he says, “I can die in peace now.”

Then out of the space of this deeply life-changing moment, Simeon looks at Mary and essentially says to her: He will pierce human hearts. And out of those pierced hearts will pour the secrets of humankind. He will pierce even your soul, Mary.

Can you imagine?

This tells me something about what we might do with our losses – our pierced and broken hearts. When our hearts are broken, we cannot help but see what is inside them. We cannot help but see exposed thoughts, feelings, defenses, fears, loves… Some of these will not be surprising, some of these will be total strangers to us, and I daresay some of these will be downright terrifying. But what is Human Life if we do not allow ourselves to see and integrate all the pieces of ourselves into the whole that is the True Self? We are left incomplete and fragmented. We might tell ourselves that we’re good just knowing what is easy to know. But that's simply not true. The things about us that are the hardest to see are the very things that are our greatest teachers. And perhaps our greatest liberators.

When our hearts are pierced and broken and our secrets pour out of our wounds, we can name them accurately and truthfully. And this is not so we can wallow and fester in our shame, but so we can make them available to the healing power of the Light. In fact, the most integral aspect of of Jesus’s liberation mission as the Light of the Cosmos is to shine this healing light on human hearts. Heart wounds, by definition, open closed hearts. We feel vulnerable in pain because, well, we are. While our social and cultural constructs have instructed us that vulnerability and authenticity is scary and bad, it is only this kind of opening that allows the transformative Light of the Cosmos to freely make its way into us.

One of my favorite recorded statements Jesus ever makes is found in John 8:12: I am the Light that shines through the cosmos; if you walk with Me, you will thrive in the Nourishing Light that gives Life and will not know darkness. 

So what do we do with our losses? We name the wounds, the piercings, the pains. And we look upon and listen to the secrets that pour out of them. We face ALL the things we see (not just the “pretty” ones) with confidence and assurance, trusting that somehow the Light heals because that’s what is promised. Heartbreak gives us the opportunity to become more receptive people – exposing us to what we need; opening us to growth, expansion, birth; and helping us make space for all things within us and around us to belong, even the tensions and longings that scare us.

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In what ways does your heart stand pierced and broken, asking to be heard? Can you look at the secrets, those precious and sacred teachers, and allow their authenticity to lead you toward your own integration and liberation? If it feels overwhelming, that's okay. What is just one thing you can choose to name and hold today?

Advent: Listening with our bodies

The spiritual life is full of different forms of waiting. It is so easy to forget the importance of waiting – what it does, what it is for, and who it leads us to become. When we forget the importance of waiting, we also usually forget that there are myriad practices associated with waiting that more greatly open us to the benefits of a process like this. The rhythms and rituals of the church calendar call our attention back to waiting, anticipation, listening, etc. as practices of worship and devotion. As with many life practices, we have gotten out of the habit of involving our bodies in the process. We allow our cerebral minds to consider and analyze life inevitabilities and processes. We observe our emotions dipping in and out of our thinking, and let our minds expand our hearts for the briefest of moments. Our spirits are involved in a very automatic way also, of course, as worship and devotion are meant to call out to the spirit in both whispers or shouts. But the body…what about the body?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he says our bodies are living, dynamic containers for the Spirit of the living God –– temples. In a modern Western experience of Christianity, we have usually been told what not to do with our bodies, how they can get us into trouble. But we rarely talk about how beautifully our bodies can get us out of trouble. God is such an artist, however, that He has created these fleshy temples in which we can carry around His Living Spirit and worship him in the most ordinary and plain things. So often we pray for a miracle…but just like when you’re desperately searching for your lost keys then look down and find them in your hands, the miracles that we pray for are already in plain sight if only we can become still enough to pay attention and see.

The lighting, beholding, and enjoying of the Advent candles is a special but very ordinary thing. Though we only practice this rhythm once a year together in our spiritual communities, it is a very common thing––lighting the wicks of candles that sit in a simple circle. But when done with specific attention paid, it invites our whole beings into sweet attunement with the process of the no-matter-what with-ness of God.

Advent is the season we tend to most intentionally sit silently in life’s tensions, listen carefully, and wait for Jesus, the Light of the Cosmos, the being within the Divine dance who is called Emmanuel, “God with us.”


What vast expectation and eager anticipation might we experience if we were to fully grasp the infinitude of what God’s with-ness truly means?


God is so decisive about wanting exchange and unity with humankind that He brought visibility to invisibility, He revealed Himself in the flesh, and allowed Himself to be known in every possible human capacity and dimension: above in the heavens, below through Incarnation, in the depths of death, and the breadth of the entire universe. This is a God who wants to know and be known.

So. Each week for the next four weeks, another Advent candle will be lit. As the number of flames increase, so does the tension of our waiting expectantly. The portal between the flames and our attunement is the body. But I invite you to take this beyond the lighting of the candles on Sunday. How might you invite the mysteries of such a time into your whole being over the next four week on a daily basis? If He can form His own body from the body a virgin girl two thousand years ago, He can surely invite your particular body into the process of anticipating His ever-coming and ever-with-ness in you this season.

May God help us.

Integrating Identities

One of my favorite things about working in counselor education is watching students find and develop their voices. Today marks the last day of an independent study I've been running with one of my students, Jeannete Martinez, called "Integrating Identities." In this course we sought to learn more about how the field of counseling can better support minority helping professionals in integrating their various (sometimes seemingly conflicting) identities. Though I knew this independent study with Jeannete was going to be rich and enjoyable, I could have never predicted that it would be quite this transformative for both of us. What transformed me was Jeannete's voice, her vulnerability, her courageous risk-taking to show up to this level of study that unearthed parts of her. What moved me was that she didn't just show up professionally and academically to get the good grade and meet the requirements, but that she showed up with her whole self. This is always a gift to me.

I had the gift of seeing (really seeing) and hearing (really hearing) Jeannete during this time, and now she has given me the permission to share her voice with you all. Below I have posted (with Jeannete's full permission, of course) her final discussion post, which she wrote about the topic of integrating her identities.

Without further ado, I introduce you to the unique and beautiful voice of Jeannete Auxiliadora Martinez.


Who am I?

I am Jeannete Auxiliadora Martinez.

I am la hija de Juana, la que viene y va. The sister, the cousin, the sobrina that exists more via family chat than en carne y hueso

I am my mother’s daughter, resisting the destined comparisons while building on the inroads she lay, going much further than a simple campesina could have ever dared to dream.

I am my father’s daughter, carrying more than his name, driven by the same hope he had when we crossed the river.

I am a child, wearing a frilly pink dress and equally frilly but mismatched socks confronting the reality of the patria with its mosquitos, outhouses, and unending line of cousins who wear my discarded clothes and watch wide-eyed as I eat my heaping plate of gallopinto.

I am the little ballerina, exchanging the pink tutu for a black dress, learning to hide her tears, no longer daddy’s little girl doing cartwheels up and down the sidewalk: Do I look like a wheel, daddy?

I am the teacher’s pet, knowing all the answers, but still hiding in my head even after all these years.

I am a high-school senior, at a crossroads, heeding my little sister’s song tell me that I’ve been standing in this place for far too long and that I’m like a bird without a sky. “Go,” she said, and still does, knowing I’m searching for a place to fly.

I am Nicaraguan-American, born in Mexico, raised en la ciudad que progresa, lisping my zetas with my adopted Castilian accent. My words tumble out, sometimes in English, sometimes in my native tongue that I took for granted until I realized it was the language my heart beats to.

I am a college student, in the midst of charged racial dialogue, split between two worlds: my well-meaning white friend who asks me, you don’t feel that way, do you? and my Black-Latina friend with the gorgeous curls who sits on my couch, hurt beyond words.

I am Esperanza, packing my books and paper, saying goodbye (again and again) not to Mango but to Hialeah, wondering if I too will return for the ones I left behind, for the ones who cannot out like I once thought I would.

I am a Latina, moved by the strong women who braved the borderlands before me, summoning up the courage and strength to believe that I too have something to declare.

I am a student, ready to learn, struggling to engage the world beyond the comfortable confines of my own thoughts.

I am a therapist, a listener, a healer on my own inner journey.

I am Jeannete, forever reminded of God’s graciousness, freely poured out over me.

I am Auxiliadora, a name that once brought a sense of shame now a source of pride. Auxiliadora, a helper, a healer.

I am Martinez, of mestizo origin, kin to the god of war. I am Martinez, trying to shed not my heritage but the family chains at war with difficult emotions.

I am a pipeline, a receiver and giver of living water. 

I am prodigal, prone to wander, to leave the one I love.

I am gold and dust, precious but not eternal, all too cognizant of the latter and too quick to deny the former.

I am beloved. Through these and my many more possible answers to my different identities, I am beloved by someone who will neither slumber nor sleep. I am beloved by he who sees me.

Integration

It is all too tempting to call the work of integration a solo-project, a journey through my different parts searching for a way to somehow join all these components single-handedly, tie a bow around them and move on to the next undertaking.

I could give a Sunday School-esque answer and end saying that integration means diving deeper into what it means to live as the beloved, my focus word for this year, outlining a plan to read some more Henri Nouwen and contemplative writers. And that would be quite a reading list. I could add in something about approaching my identity mindfully, listening to my different parts. 

But with my heart pounding and the familiar gut feeling tying up my stomach I know that is not the answer I want to end on.

[Heather, I knew this class with you would get me here to this very introspective and vulnerable place. And I’m quite certain that if it were anyone else I would not be sharing quite so openly. I would have certainly gone to bed well over an hour ago and let this fizzle out.]

I’ve learned to acknowledge the disconnect. To sit with these thoughts, type them, and post them knowing that it will be read by someone else and I can’t really reel it back in and pretend its not there. Part of me just wants to stop typing, to stop thinking about this and instead rely on the fact that this post is already more than 700 words long and maybe I should edit instead of add.

I want integration without vulnerability. I want integration via private typed words and hidden scribblings. I want integration as if I could somehow journey further up and further in on my own.

My identities are connected to others. Yet I feel so disconnected.

It’s a lesson I have given yet struggle with: community as vital. The importance of vulnerability. Yet I sit in silent observation, time and again, not contributing, living in my own head. No wonder I feel disconnected.

Integration requires me to participate in the world that lives outside of my head. It requires me to actually be fully present in the world, voice and all.

It requires me to be aware of all the parts of me and practice acceptance and surrender. 

Cozolino wrote that fearlessness in exploring our own inner world increases self-knowledge resulting in an increased ability to help others. I am not sure how fearless my approach is but I am certainly exploring it. And I do believe it will ultimately create a more grounded and helpful auxiliadora, washed in his graciousness, no longer at war with herself.

A Truly Connected Life

Today I am holed up in my office at BTS Graduate School of Counseling doing some prep work for my weekend course called Beyond Talk Therapy. Look at all this lovely craziness I have going on on my office floor...

Several weeks ago while I was prepping for the course, I was looking for a good video I could show to give a good synopsis of interpersonal neurobiology. There are so many great videos Dan Siegel has put out into the world and I, of course, being the never-full sponge that I am, quickly got sucked in a time warp where I watched a few, then suddenly I looked at the clock and it was several hours later. But man, was I a lot smarter! I found one that was just the right length. 27 minutes... (which, by the way, is just about the exact length of time most adults can listen to something before they start zoning out and dreaming about what they want to eat for dinner. But that's neurobiology for you.)

I decided I wanted to share this 27-minute video with YOU all, which speaks toward a lot of topics we talk about on my podcast, like, "Who am I?" and "How do people change?" and "What might an integrated life look like?" These kinds of things. I figured some of you may actually watch this video and gain some lovely, enriching insights from it.

One thing I will say is that, if you decide to not watch the video, at least watch a few minutes starting at minute 10:00. It reminds me of one of the most important aspects of being and becoming truly human.

[Disclaimer: If you are taking my class this weekend, don't watch the video. It's a spoiler!]

May I present to you Dr. Daniel Siegel.

Live a life guided by Grace & Love? Huh??

What a crazy idea. Right?

In my Christian upbringing, I remember hearing the words "grace" and "love" applied to God and those who identified as Christians, but the majority of what I saw lived out was shame and blame and guilt-tripping. If you were looking down on others it meant you were higher up by default. Just like God...right? Except the Bible makes it very clear that's not how God rolls. Like, at all.

This one part of a letter in the Bible called Philippians says:

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by coming together wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
— the Apostle Paul

Belonging... tender and compassionate hearts... take interest... equality... humble...

Something I find interesting about these words is that I think we can practice all of these things and have really terrible motives. I think Paul is saying in this letter that, for this to work, these "forces" that lead to unity have to come from our deepest place - that place that is in fellowship with the Spirit of the Divine. This is the only place from which authentic grace and Love can come. I think Paul is saying (at least in part) that the unity that comes from Love comes from God and we always have access to it, but we would often rather believe that we don't.

I would bet the farm this means that looking down on others isn't very unifying. In this letter Paul clearly paints a word picture of something that ACTUALLY happened (and I can only say this using human terms, so forgive me): Christ moved toward us. The only way Christ could have stayed in his state of Divine privilege and not made this cosmic, epic, game-changing move toward humans (who desperately needed unity, love and peace) would have been to break off from His very nature, to break off from HIMSELF. Which I think is actually impossible.

I wish this were impossible for us humans, too.

I wish it were impossible for me to not move toward other human beings, no matter what. I wish it were as impossible for me to live my life detached from the disenfranchised as it is for me to live without oxygen.

I'm not calling myself (or you) a cold-hearted person; I'm saying that I happen to have a lot of privilege that I didn't do anything to gain, that I was born into. And privilege by its very nature is not disruptive. It's comfortable.

Comfort doesn't get our attention. Disruption gets our attention. 

I want to be disrupted into living a life guided by Grace (no-matter-whatness) and Love (I'm-with-you). I want to live a life that embodies I'm-with-you-no-matter-whatness.

So, how about you? What terrifies you about this possibility? How might we defy any of the constructs of privilege and comfort that we get to enjoy in our lives to find more unity? To find a life guided by Grace and Love?

And what would happen if we did?

A Franciscan Benediction

I know I haven't blogged in...well, seven months. ((Hangs head)) I have good reasons for it, which I look forward to telling you all about soon enough. But in the meantime I wanted to share this benediction with you. It blessed me today, and I thought it may meet some of you where you are, too.

Franciscan Benediction

May God bless us with discomfort
at uneasy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations
so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

Amen.

The Cry of the Refugee

This weekend I am attending the annual Global Community of Practice for trauma healing professionals around the globe. This year the theme is best practices for helping refugees. I'm sure I'll be posting more later but for now I thought it best to post a poem that is an actual voice of an actual refugee—a woman who skillfully speaks for all those who travel the world, displaced.

Before I post that, however, I invite you consider something: have you ever been on a trip and you've been away longer than you'd like and you find yourself thinking, "I cannot wait to get home. I miss my bed and my pillow, and I miss my favorite chair." We've all been there most likely. Now imagine feeling that longing and knowing you'll never return home.

This is only part of the cry of refugees.

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no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

 

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

 

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

 

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied

 

no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

 

the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

 

or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

 

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here

 

"Home" by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali